Master of Arts
Theory and Criticism
It has been difficult to effect concrete changes in our society that might adequately approach confronting the intersecting crises of capitalism, inequality, and ecology that we face in our era. Herbert Marcuse’s critical theory, and his notion of quantitative development leading to qualitative change, in combination with Hannah Arendt’s theories of action, natality, and the will, provide us with an appropriate lens through which to view these crises and diagnose the problems at hand. Additionally, Thomas Kuhn’s concepts of paradigms and ‘normal science,’ as well as Richard Rorty’s distinction between movements and campaigns provide us with more concrete ideas of what ‘quantitative development’ means. Paul Ricoeur’s theory of metaphor and metaphoricity can provide us with an understanding of what a guiding principle, such as inspiration or hope, can help us to achieve in attempting to effect concrete change. We must aim to make real the phrase ‘another world is possible.’
Summary for Lay Audience
In this thesis, my aim is to outline the value of Herbert Marcuse’s critical theory for the current era. His diagnosis of the problems that Western society and its population faced during the 1950s–70s, though, is not completely adequate to address the problems that we face in our age. Therefore, I aim to augment his critical theory with Hannah Arendt’s concepts of action, natality, and the will. Action is the uniquely human capacity to participate in the public sphere, especially in the context of politics—understood in the Ancient Greek sense of the word. Natality is the uniquely human capacity to introduce novelty into the world, which is to say that we can interrupt natural processes of biology and history. The will is the internal human capacity to project oneself into the future, willing that one does a certain thing and not another. It is characterized by the posture of an ‘I-will,’ and it aims to become an ‘I-will-and-I-can.’ The combination of Marcuse and Arendt’s various theories and concepts leads us to an ideal of politics, as developed by Christopher Holman. I tease out the possibilities that this will present to us, but conclude that it is difficult for us to achieve that ideal in our present state. Therefore, I turn to Thomas Kuhn, Richard Rorty, and Paul Ricoeur. Each of these three thinkers provides us with concepts that allow us to imagine the quantitative steps that we can take now that will, hopefully, lead us to this ideal.
Halperin, Robert, "Is Another World Possible?: Herbert Marcuse and Possibilities for 'Real' Change" (2021). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8016.
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